The Minnesota Vikings are hoping they can improve their defense that was their Achilles heel in 2013. The Vikings defense allowed the most points against on average per game and was 31st in the league in total yards against and passing yards against. Like many of the positions, linebackers are far from set in stone for the Vikings.
Through training camp there has been a lot of mixing and matching, trying to see what can work with this defense. Veteran Chad Greenway is a lock to start this season, and it looks like Gerald Hodges will be there too. However, outside of Greenway, the Vikings don’t have any linebackers who have experience being an every week starter in the NFL.
Though Minnesota’s defense likely won’t see an overnight turnover in production, new defensive coordinator George Edwards could help make some changes in order to improve from last season. Edwards comes to the Vikings after being the linebacker coach with Miami in 2013.
“We’re rotating a lot of different guys in a lot of different areas,” Edwards said. “We still haven’t said that this guy is at this position or this guy’s the MIKE or this guy’s playing the SAM outside linebacker. So right now, this will be a process as we keep going through camp. We like the competition. We like the guys that we’ve got. And we know it will work itself out in the end.”
Audi Cole returns this season after starting five games last season and recording 45 tackles in 13 games, including 27 solo tackles. Cole could certainly be in the mix, but he’ll have some competition to earn a starting spot. Michael Mauti and Larry Dean also return from the 2013 Vikings squad, though neither started any games and had a combined 24 tackles last season. Mauti has been known to be injury prone, having three ACL operations in college, so he may be a longshot to be a starter.
The newcomers to this Vikings defense have perhaps the best chance at playing alongside Greenway in 2014. Minnesota brought back former Viking Jasper Brinkley as a free agent after playing for the Arizona Cardinals in 2013. Though Brinkley only started three games in Arizona, he started 15 games with the Vikings in 2012 and could again be a dependable linebacker in Minnesota. Brinkley wasn’t the only free agent linebacker brought in this past offseason, though.
Dom DeCicco comes to the Vikings after playing with the Chicago Bears from 2011-2012. In 20 games with the Bears, DeCicco recorded 12 tackles but never started a game. At 6’4”, 230 lbs. he has plenty of size, but it seems he may just be there for added depth.
Then there’s Mike Zimmer. No, not the coach, the linebacker. Zimmer failed to make Jacksonville’s roster out of training camp last season, but at 23 years old, he could find the time needed to develop in Minnesota. It could be hard, however, as the Vikings’ first pick of the 2014 NFL Draft will likely make his way to a starting position at some point in 2014.
The Vikings took Anthony Barr out of UCLA with the ninth pick of this year’s NFL Draft. Barr was a projected top ten pick, and Minnesota made it happen when they selected him instead of the anticipated and expected quarterback pick. At 6’5”, 255 lbs., Barr has tremendous size and his strengths are his speed and pass rushing. Though he may go through an adjustment period getting up to speed of the NFL game, there are some fairly big expectations on Barr to be a force for the Vikings defense, and he should be a starter at some point this coming season.
“We just want to see who will come to the top, competition-wise, and win out the position. Going into camp, that’s what you want as a coach. You want things to be unsettled so guys go out there and work hard every day.”